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THE SITUATION ROOM

GOP Leaders Dispute New Benghazi Report; Report Says NSA Intercepts Computer Shipments; Interview With Rep. Michael Grimm Of New York; Obamacare Online Sign-Ups Pass One Million; CNN Poll; Afghan War May Be At Least Popular Ever; Colorado Makes Sale of Pot Legal; NFL Coaches Fired on Black Monday; Washington's Football Dysfunction

Aired December 30, 2013 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did. You know, Jim, it's the same -- a repeat of the same debate that's been going on for more than a year over al Qaeda and that anti-Muslim video.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Top Republican lawmakers insist al Qaeda was behind the Benghazi attack.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya. We know that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MEET THE PRESS," COURTESY NBC NEWS)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Al Qaeda is not decimated. And there was a group there that was involved that is linked to al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: But the "New York Times" investigation shoots down the Republican case, saying there is "no evidence that al Qaeda had any role in the attack" on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi in which the ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans died. Instead, "The Times" says local militias and looters were to blame. And the State Department Monday agreed.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: At this point, we have no indications that core al Qaeda, which I think is what most people are referring to when they talk about, quote, "Al Qaeda," directed or planned what happened in Benghazi.

DOUGHERTY: The newspaper also says an anti-Muslim video did play a role in motivating the attackers, at least in part, something Republicans claim is untrue. But the attack, it says, was not a copycat of street protests in Egypt against the video, as then U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, suggested on Sunday talk shows.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM SEPTEMBER 15, 2012, COURTESY NBC/"MEET THE PRESS")

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: The Obama White House isn't commenting on or disputing "The Times" report, which notably did not mention then secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: What difference, at this point, does it make?

DOUGHERTY: But former White House national security spokesman, Tommy Dieter, blasted Republican demands for Benghazi hearings and for their claims that the Obama administration was lying, Tweeting, "They were wrong," and, "We could have avoided months of disgusting demagoguery."

Will the truth about Benghazi ever be known?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: It would really be tragic if we didn't understand, really in a very full and transparent way, what happened, both for not only this incident, but for the safety and security of our diplomats around the world going forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why can't we understand that at this point?

TOWNSEND: Well, because at the moment, there's an awful lot of politics involved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Politics.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY: Now, the State Department won't use the word "vindicated," but it obviously feels its position has been vindicated. And Republicans, for their part, still insist the Obama administration lied to the American public -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Now, more NSA secrets revealed about the brazen ways that government spies are getting information about their toughest targets, from hacking to actually intercepting computers when they're delivered.

Our Brian Todd is digging on this story.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this group of NSA hackers is young, highly skilled and always coming up with head spinning techniques to infiltrate computers. But the agency insists no Americans inside the U.S. are targeted and these hackers are needed to protect America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A typical error message from Microsoft telling you of a bug in your computer. Many of us get them all the time. But for some users, that error message may be a way into their computer for an elite unit inside the NSA.

MATTHEW AID, AUTHOR, "THE SECRET SENTRY": This is NSA's hacking organization. It's 1,600 men and women, military and civilians, average age mid-19 -- you know, mid-20s, maybe early 30s. So it's a very young, very tech savvy organization.

TODD: The unit is called Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. New details of its activities are reported in the German magazine "Der Spiegel," which cites internal NSA documents.

The magazine says some of the hackers are based in this building in San Antonio. Aside from getting into a computer through an error message, "Der Spiegel" says TAO hackers can access so-called cookies, those tags that pop up showing a computer's favorite Web sites. And they can redirect users to a dummy page on a site like LinkedIn or Facebook. It looks like a real page, but it's a fake one controlled by the NSA.

(on camera): This is a dummy Facebook page.

When you go there, what does the NSA want to find out?

MICHAEL SUTTON, ZSCALER, INC.: One would be to simply intercept and sniff your traffic. For example, I would be logging into this page and they would be able to see. Now they have my user name and password, get into my account and help them in other attacks.

But in this particular scenario, what they really want to do is infect my machine.

TODD (voice-over): But the unit doesn't do just remote hacking. According to "Der Spiegel," TAO operatives physically intercept some computers being delivered to plant spyware and infiltrate offices and plant their own monitor cables and USB plugs onto targeted computers to collect data.

An NSA official told CBS' "60 Minutes" the agency was concerned enough about the connecting cables on Edward Snowden's computers that it removed those cables after he leaked NSA documents. According to "Der Spiegel," this NSA hacking unit targets potential terrorists, foreign security agencies and corporations.

SUTTON: From an eavesdropping perspective, this is a gold mine. If I can own your computer, if I can gain access to it and gain a foothold into it, now I have access to all of your secrets.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: We contacted the NSA for a response to the "Der Spiegel" report. In a statement, the agency said, quote, "Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies. TAO'S work is in support of foreign intelligence collection."

Jim, that means they're saying that Americans inside the U.S. are not targeted by this. ACOSTA: But still more important questions being asked about what is going on over at the NSA.

Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Coming up next, a second deadly bombing in Russia and growing fears about a terror attack at the upcoming Olympics. I'll talk to a Republican Congressman who fears the Winter Games could be like the Boston Marathon bombings, or worse.

And new information about the gunman in the Colorado shooting at that school earlier this year and the surprising thing he did before opening fire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: The United States now is offering to help Russia tighten security at the upcoming Olympics after two deadly bombings in two days. An explosion tore through a trolley bus in Volgograd this morning, just hours after a blast at the city's main train station. At least 31 people were killed in the two attacks.

Now serious concerns are being raised about security at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. That begins in less than six weeks.

We're joined now by Republican Congressman Michael Grimm of New York.

And Congressman, good evening.

Thanks for joining us.

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: Good evening.

ACOSTA: I want to get to a statement that you've issued in light of these attacks. Let's put it up on screen, because I thought it was very interesting.

It says, "Each time we fail to recognize these threats, we not only risk the lives of innocent Americans, but appear weaker and vulnerable in the eyes of the enemy. In doing so, we allow the terrorists to become emboldened and continue their reign of terror throughout the world." Congressman, are you trying to say that we should have anticipated these attacks?

What did you mean by that?

GRIMM: No, actually. I was referring to Benghazi. What we have right now is -- is much bigger than a United States problem, as evidenced by the latest bombing in Russia. This is a global problem. And to defeat terrorism, we're going to have to have cooperation and coordination throughout the world.

But if we do not -- if we are not honest with the American people and we don't -- and we put out information that is not accurate, then how are these other countries going to be able to rely on us and depend on us and cooperate with us?

So I think it's -- it's much bigger than just that statement. It really goes to the heart of how do you combat a global problem like terrorism if we can't honestly and -- and sincerely discuss the issues of our own breaches in security, such as Benghazi.

ACOSTA: But is the administration not being honest about the threat to athletes in Sochi?

Is that what you're saying, as well?

GRIMM: Oh, no. I think there's...

ACOSTA: We'll get to Benghazi in a moment, but...

GRIMM: -- no question.

ACOSTA: -- but what about what happened in Russia?

GRIMM: Well, there's no question the are vulnerabilities there. As these -- as these bombings evidence, if someone is willing to give their life, like a suicide bomber, it is extremely difficult to protect from that outside a certain perimeter. Within a certain perimeter, you can protect. You can have layers. Security works like an onion and you peel

Layers to get to the -- to the point that is most protected on the inside.

But when someone is willing to kill themselves, like a suicide bomber, it is very difficult, especially (INAUDIBLE) primers, to prevent it.

And -- and in some instances, it's impossible to prevent. We have to take it very seriously.

But again, how are we going to help Russia?

We should be -- we need to cooperate with them. We have to increase their security, mostly because of what the Olympics represent. The Olympics represent really nations putting aside differences and coming together a peaceful competition, which is something we should promote.

But again, I think for Russia to be able to rely on us and to work with us, there has to be an underlying understanding that we come to the table openly...

ACOSTA: Yes.

GRIMM: -- and honestly about security.

ACOSTA: But Congressman, as you know, U.S.-Russian relations have taken a hit in recent years.

GRIMM: Sure. ACOSTA: And let me ask you, because you're the chair of the House Russian Caucus, should the U.S. Be concerned about the security of our athletes at these upcoming Olympic Games?

And what is being done about it?

GRIMM: Well, there's no question that Russia has stepped up its security. My understanding is there's many, many layers. This will probably be one of the most difficult Olympics to actually go as a spectator and watch the games because of the myriad of layers of security.

But do I think that the United States has cause for concern?

Absolutely. And I do think that we have to have a relationship with Russia good enough that we can have open and honest discussions about security for our athletes, as well as the athletes of those from all around the world...

ACOSTA: Should we have...

GRIMM: -- and how we can help.

ACOSTA: -- second thoughts about sending our athletes over there, do you think?

GRIMM: No, I don't think that we should. I think that's how, you know, that -- that's how terrorism or terrorists declare victory, is when we -- when we stop doing things like the Olympics, then they've won.

We can't allow that to happen. We can't live in a state of terror or panic.

But you do have to take the appropriate precautions. And I think us offering to help Russia with that is a good sign. And that's also the reason why you have to have diplomatic relations with countries like Russia. We -- they're plagued by terrorism, as we are, and we have to work together if we're going to be successful in combating it.

ACOSTA: And let me turn to Benghazi. You mentioned Benghazi. There was this "New York Times" report that came out over the weekend that basically said that it appears al Qaeda was not involved in that attack on that U.S. Mission last year and -- and I just want to ask you, because Republicans have been saying for the last year or so that not only was al Qaeda involved or related in some way to that attack, but that the administration was hiding the facts.

Do you -- who was right in this scenario?

Do you believe "The New York Times" report?

Or are -- do you still believe, as many other Republicans believe, that this was an al Qaeda-related attack?

GRIMM: Well, I don't think it's a matter of belief, I think it's a matter of fact. "The New York Times" is wrong period. Both Democrats...

ACOSTA: Period. You're saying that the entire story is wrong?

GRIMM: Yes. And I would not -- and I would not say that it's a Republican point of view. For me, this has -- this is apolitical, first of all, as a United States Marine, as a former FBI agent, I can tell you that security is not something that should have any political undertones whatsoever.

The fact is that both Republicans and Democrats that have been briefed on the Intelligence Committee have tangible evidence, empirical data that has shown through -- through

Sources that all -- they could be somewhat tenuous, but there was definitely ties to al Qaeda, whether it was Ansar al-Sharia, whether it was Al-Shabab, it still -- there were still ties...

ACOSTA: Ties...

GRIMM: -- to some al Qaeda.

ACOSTA: But -- but let's -- let's get into this, because ties to al Qaeda and al Qaeda are two

Things, as you know, Congressman. And I know that you can't reveal...

GRIMM: But not...

ACOSTA: -- everything that...

GRIMM: -- but not completely.

ACOSTA: -- you've been shown by the intelligence community. You were going to say not completely, but where does the distinction lie?

GRIMM: Well, again, I would disagree with you. You know, if al Qaeda is funding an offshoot, an affiliate, to carry out a terrorist act, then there are terror proxy for al Qaeda and they may call themselves something differently. Look, al Qaeda has morphed. And that's the thing. There's no more traditional al Qaeda back from 9/11. They have changed and they have morphed. They've splintered off into many different groups. They still fund and train --

ACOSTA: But let's say --

GRIMM: -- different terror groups --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- that the attack was carried out by al Qaeda related elements.

GRIMM: Right.

ACOSTA: And you're saying al Qaeda can fund those al Qaeda related elements. Do you have proof that al Qaeda was funding this, providing support, providing aid in any way? How does al Qaeda come into this?

GRIMM: My understanding is that there is intelligence reports that ties this in ways to al Qaeda. I'm not at liberty to speak specifically about what those documents say and what that data shows, but there is definitely ties to al Qaeda. It's my understanding from briefings that I've been in. In addition to that, I also want to just say there's a little bit of common sense here.

When you look at the attack itself, this was a methodical, military attack. This was not some group of individuals that was upset and had -- these are trained individuals that went through this -- this was a military op. There's no question about that. Anyone that has any military training could look at this and say these were people that were very well trained.

They had all the right weapons. So, they were weaponized, they were trained, and they were methodical. They've obviously worked together and trained together before. So, the idea that this was a group that was upset because of whatever was happening in the region, internet, different --

ACOSTA: "New York Times" said that this video may in the end have provoked this attack or may have had a role in provoking this attack. You're saying that that's nonsense. You don't believe it.

GRIMM: I think it's outlandish just based on the attack itself. Again, if it was something that a YouTube video would have gotten ordinary people, citizens in that area upset, then they would have maybe done Molotov cocktails, thrown rocks, maybe someone would have had a firearm, maybe even an AK-47. This was a methodical well thought-out, well planned military style attack.

ACOSTA: And congressman --

GRIMM: This is not something that average citizens could do.

ACOSTA: -- in light of this report? Does this report at least create a question in your mind, in the minds of others, that you've spoken with, that perhaps new hearings are necessary to get to the bottom of this?

GRIMM: Well, I think we've been saying that all along. I think Chairman Darrell Issa has been doing a very good job of trying to elicit the truth here. And again, why is the truth so important? Well, it's important for several reasons. Number one, it's important for our own security to know exactly how many different factions and affiliates have splintered off from al Qaeda and how tenuous is the relationship, how strong is the relationship.

But then again, also, as far as our credibility with countries like Russia when we have new incidents, we have to be able to coordinate and we have to cooperate with them. If we're not honest with ourselves and with our own security breaches, how are they going to respect us to help them with theirs? That's why I think this is very relevant in the conversation of the Sochi Olympics.

ACOSTA: OK. Congressman Michael Grimm, we appreciate your time very much. And Happy New Year to you, sir. Thank you.

GRIMM: Happy New Year.

ACOSTA: Appreciate it.

Coming up, a new low for the war in Afghanistan. Twelve years into the conflict, is this now the most unpopular war in U.S. history? And President Obama is obviously a busy man, but he still finds time to catch on some of the country's most popular shows. We'll tell you the shows that he says are his favorites, and that's just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Obamacare is at a crucial crossroads right now as coverage kicks in for many Americans on New Year's Day. The administration is touting a last minute surge in online enrollment, but the health care program faces many hurdles in the months ahead. CNNs Athena Jones is with the president in Hawaii.

And I'm sure everybody is commented about the live shot and the way it looks behind you. So, we'll just get beyond that all together. But talk about this rollout and how things have been going a little bit better lately with all of these people signing up, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. Good afternoon. After the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov back in October, health officials now say the site is operating much better and the proof is in this big jump in enrollment numbers we're seeing. More than 1.1 million people signed up for health plans using the federal exchange between October 1st and December 24th.

And nearly a million of those, 975,000, came in December, this month alone, and we're not even finish with December. Now, these numbers don't include new Medicaid enrollees. They also don't include numbers from the state-run marketplaces, but many of those state exchanges we know have also seen a surge in activity. So, it will take a few more weeks, we imagine, to get the final numbers for the month of December and for these first several months of the sign-up period.

But even with this big jump that we're seeing in the last few days, it still looks as though the administration is going to fall short of its target of 3.3 million people signing up by January 1st. And so, as part of efforts to continue to encourage people to sign up, the White House is going to spend this week working with Congressional Democrats, outside groups, and some high profile supporters of the health care law to share the stories of people who are going to be covered because of Obamacare, and to tout some of the law's benefits -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And they want to get that good news out there, obviously. But, Athena, today, we saw an official over at CMS. That's an agency inside HHS that helps oversee the health care program, that person is retiring. Tell us about that.

JONES: That's right. We're talking about the CMS' chief operating officer, Michelle Snyder. She was in charge of supervising the whole rollout of healthcare.gov. She's retiring after 41 years as a public servant, and CMS administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, who we saw testify before Congress early on about the problems with this rollout, Marilyn Tavenner called Snyder a key member of the agency's leadership team with a formidable work ethic.

And she also noted that Snyder had planned to leave a year ago but stayed on in order to help with this rollout. So, some news on that front as well, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Athena Jones with the best-looking live shot of the day. Aloha, Athena. Thank you.

JONES: Aloha.

ACOSTA: It is no secret that Americans are not happy with the war in Afghanistan. It is a number that struck us today, just how many unhappy may surprise you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a grim finding. The country's longest war may well be its most unpopular. A new CNN/ORC poll shows only 17 percent, less than one-quarter of Americans, support the war in Afghanistan. That's down from a high of 52 percent in 2008. A massive shift not lost on the president who said just days ago he wants closure.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over just as we've ended our war in Iraq and we'll continue to bring our troops home.

ACOSTA: But as the president looks to end the war that's left 3,400 Americans dead and almost 20,000 wounded at a cost of well over $600 billion, a new intelligence estimate warns the White House a big draw- down in troops could allow Taliban insurgents to regain the upper hand.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, (RET) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If we think that there is a scintilla of a chance for forms of terrorism to grow again in that part of the world and that is, in fact, a melting pot for all of that, then we need to pay attention to Afghanistan in some way, and it appears like we're not.

ACOSTA: Complicating the matter, Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has yet to sign an agreement that would keep a small number of U.S. forces in the country after 2014. Without a deal, the White House warns the U.S. may pull out all of its troops.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Without a prompt signature, the United States would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. We simply can't do it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (on-camera): And joining me now, White House correspondent for the "New York Times," Michael Shear, and CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, editorial director of the "National Journal," I should say. Exactly. Thank you. Happy New Year. Exactly, yes. Little parting gift from us.

Let me ask you about these numbers on Afghanistan, because they struck us as being -- I mean, obviously, the war is not popular, but this unpopular, almost the level of, you know, the approval of members of Congress unpopular. Let's put up another number from the CNN polling. Is the U.S. winning the war in Afghanistan. Thirty-three percent yes, 60 percent no.

Ron, what is striking about -- this is the war that Americans all thought was a worthwhile cause in the beginning because of September 11th and rooting out al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It may be as simple as you're still there 12 years later with inconclusive results despite incredible heroism, commitment, and performance by the American military. And you know, you kind of look at these numbers and in that sense, they're not surprising given that we're still doing this and they are consequential, I think.

I think in the story of debate (ph), we saw the impact of the disillusionment over Afghanistan and Iraq. The sense that there is -- I think that faith has been enormously dissipated that American arms can truly transform these societies in a way that make them more favorable to our interests.

ACOSTA: And Michael, one of the problems going into this year is that the president has said he wants to essentially wind down the war in Afghanistan by the end of the year, but as we've seen from this report and others, that Afghanistan may not be ready.

MICHAEL SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, and I think, look, part of the other issue here is that the American people are taking their cues from politicians across the spectrum. Both the president who wants to wind it down and so that the American people are taking their cues from that, but also on the Republican side, especially the more kind of Rand Paul libertarian wing of the party, they also don't particularly want involvement.

And so, the American public is sort of naturally, you know, whatever support there had been is drifting down.

ACOSTA: And this president and people in the administration have said that this president wants to be the one who ends wars. And so, I think that, you know, whatever happens at the end of 2014, I think this country is getting out of Afghanistan.

BROWNSTEIN: There's a post-Afghanistan and Iraq syndrome that is very real in American politics that we will look back in history as being something like the post-Vietnam syndrome.

SHEAR: And the next election -- presidential election might be the first one to really --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

ACOSTA: And let's shift gears a little bit, because I want to talk about what's happening coming into the New Year with, you know, where the president, where the White House would like to lead. We saw the story in the "New York Times" about the minimum wage. We heard the president talk about this in his speech on income inequality.

Is that really a message that Democrats feel, you know, that they believe can carry them into the midterm elections? It seems sort of like a side issue.

SHEAR: Well, I think there are two things. One is the minimum wage is kind of the most concrete piece of this broader conversation that the president has signaled for some time that he wants to have on income inequality, on a kind of progressive populist tapping into this sort of frustration and angst that people feel about this economy that's improving but they're not improving along with it.

And so, the minimum wage is something rather than have a kind of vague conversation, you can actually sort of fight on something real. And the polls suggest that a lot of people, even Republicans, even, you know, folks you wouldn't think are in that coalition support the idea of raising the minimum wage. And so, they think they can put some of the Republican --

ACOSTA: And if you look at the polling on it, Ron, it is very popular issue.

BROWNSTEIN: It is extremely popular. I'm not sure it's a vote driver for a large number of people, but what's really fascinate me about this is if you think about the midterm election, I would say the biggest single threat to the Democrats electorally are older, and blue collar Whites in these Republican leaning states where Democrats have to defend Senate seats like West Virginia and South Dakota and Alaska and Arkansas.

And you know, the president's approval rating among blue collar and older whites is under 30 percent. This is one of the rare issues on which they can speak to them. It's not clear that it's enough to kind of convert them. You almost wonder if putting on some of these ballot issues, they may draw out people who would vote to raise the minimum wage on the ballot initiative and vote Republican in the election. It's an interesting challenge.

ACOSTA: And is this anything to distract from Obamacare or is that being too cynical (ph) about --

SHEAR: Well I think everything - that anything that the White House could do to move - to change that message they probably think is a good message. I suspect since you saw the President kind of put this on the agenda a little bit in his first State of the Union address which was clearly before the website problems, I think this has had a longer germination time here, but I think they also don't worry if something can move the conversation that you and I are talking about.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. In 1996 Republicans did concede in the Senate, right? And the Congress and they accepted a minimum wage increase rather than to fight it out in the electorate year -

ACOSTA: (Inaudible) fight.

BROWNSTEIN: It would be interesting to see - I think 18 years later - it's a much more polarized environment and I'd be surprised if they make the same call.

ACOSTA: And $7.25 an hour, it just seems in this day and age to be a very low number. I mean, not to take a -

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

Male 2: -- stance on that, but I mean, I - that's why I think perhaps --

(CROSS TALK)

BROWNSTEIN: And those numbers are pretty high in the polls.

ACOSTA: And those numbers are very - speaking of numbers that they do pay attention to. But let's switch to something on the lighter side. Michael, some reporting that you had in "The New York Times" and in perhaps that you grew a beard as you were working on this story.

BROWNSTEIN: In honor of Wolf who is not here today, so.

ACOSTA: Somebody had to have the beard today and it had to be Michael. The President I guess laid out - or I don't know if he laid this out but some of his friends laid out - some of his favorite television shows and what struck me about this is how grim some of these shows are. I mean, no light-hearted (vom-coms) in here or -

SHEAR: You know, it struck - it struck me exactly that way, right, that you would think here's this guy who deals with --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

SHEAR: -- Afghanistan and terrorism and economic -

BROWNSTEIN: And the House.

SHEAR: And the House, and the things that he watches are all those sort of heavy, serious - he watches you know Homeland is one of his favorite shows, Breaking Bad is one of the ones that he's working his way through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: He gave a shout out to House of Cards. Right.

(CROSS TALK)

BROWNSTEIN: (Inaudible), Game of Thrones. I mean, you know, he's slightly aged out of the demographic, right, the 18 to 49 - if they care enough.

ACOSTA: Ouch, Ouch, Ron. Come on.

BROWNSTEIN: In every other way - in every other way - he is like the perfect target audience. It is exactly right that these are - in some ways - these are the shows that he liked because it is this sort of cable revolution of kind of high-end you know drama on cable, and he just seems exactly who they are aimed at, even if he didn't happen to be the President of the United States.

ACOSTA: I'm surprised (Beat) wasn't in there because out of all the shows -

SHEAR: That's Biden.

BROWNSTEIN: That's Biden's show, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it's - it may be a little painful. Maybe it just hits too close to home.

(CROSS TALK)

ACOSTA: That might be it may be it. All right, Michael Shear, Ron Brownstein, thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Happy New Year to both of you.

(CROSS TALK)

ACOSTA: Thank you. Good luck with the beard, Michael.

SHEAR: All right.

(CROSS TALK)

ACOSTA: All right, coming up, new details about the gunman who opened fire in a Colorado school. We now know where he went before the shootings and it's one of the last places you might expect. And a historic event just two days away - for the first time people above the age of 21 can buy pot for recreational use, but will the sellers actually be ready for it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: New details about the gunman who opened fire at a Colorado high school earlier this month. An investigation has revealed how he got into a school that should have been locked, and the surprising place he went just before the shooting. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is following the story. Fred, what have you learned?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jim, yes there's a lot of details that came to light today. Of course a lot of it had to do with the planning that Karl Pierson did, the sheriff there saying that he actually planned this in a lot of great detail, that he wanted to kill as many people as possible. But there was also some new details as to the security lapses that facilitated him actually getting into that school building. Let's have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

PLEITGEN: It was the early afternoon on December 13th when 18-year- old Karl Pierson entered the Arapahoe High School, armed with a shotgun, a machete, three Molotov cocktails and 125 rounds. He opened fire immediately as students and teachers began evacuating the building.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was pretty scary. There were two shots by my classroom. So we were just screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) a perimeter up around the school. I need one car on the north side, --

PLEITGEN: Now, new details are emerging, showing Pierson was able to get into the building easily because a door that should have been locked wasn't according to the Arapahoe County Sheriff.

GRAYSON ROBINSON, SHERIFF, ARAPAHOE COUNTY, COLORADO: We know that the doorway on the north side that the murderer entered is supposed to be locked. Unfortunately, it rarely is because it is more convenient for people to come and go from that area and not have to be obstructed by a locked door.

PLEITGEN: Pierson fired several shots, one of them fatally wounding 17-year-old Claire Davis. The Arapaho sheriff also released new details about how Pierson planned his shooting spree, saying he passed a background check and legally bought the shotgun on December 6th, continuously acquired ammunition 'til the morning of the shooting and then tried to mask his intentions.

ROBINSON: We know that on the morning of December 13th, the murderer conducted his business as he normally would - gave no indication that anything was amiss. Took time to have a meal and actually took time to go bowling by himself.

PLEITGEN: Police say Pierson was looking for a librarian and that Claire Davis happened to be in the line of fire. The whole incident only took about a minute and 20 seconds to unfold the sheriff says, and he praised the deputy who was on duty in the school for reacting quickly. Otherwise, many more people might have been killed.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

PLEITGEN: And, Jim, as you know, the police believes that he was actually looking for his debate team chairman who apparently had disciplined him before that and he went into the school library because this debate team leader is also the librarian, and then he apparently heard this deputy coming closer and that's the moment that he shot himself. So, a lot of people are saying the fact that this deputy moved so quickly could have potentially saved a lot of lives, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Frederik Pleitgen, thank you very much. For more on these new details, let's turn to "Denver Post" reporter Sadie Gurman. She's been covering this story since it happened, and (Sadie), let me ask you - this revelation about the unlocked door - do police think that that would have prevented this shooting from happening?

SADIE GURMAN, "DENVER POST": Well, the sheriff said at the news conference today that basically it's unfortunate that the door was unlocked but this gunman, Karl Pierson, was intent on evil was how he put it, and he would've found a way into the school no matter what, because he came armed with not just the shotgun but also a machete and some Molotov cocktails and some - a lot of ammunition - like more than 125 rounds. So, it just seemed from that alone that he was bent on getting inside and he would've found a way regardless.

ACOSTA: And the sheriff also praised the school for I guess the way officials handled what happened there. It's unfortunate that lessons have to be learned this way, but what was done right according to authorities out there?

GURMAN: So, basically the janitor saw the gunman and he immediately initiated the school lockdown protocol, and these kids, these students were trained on how to do this and they did it quickly and perfectly according to the sheriff, you know where they lock the doors and they get in the corners of the room and they just drop what they're doing and then they hide you know to make sure that nobody can see them. And the sheriff said that that happened so quickly and so effectively that it probably saved a lot of lives.

ACOSTA: And the movie "Bowling for Columbine" - it talked about this rumor that the shooters went bowling before their shooting spree at Columbine, and today it was revealed that the Arapahoe shooter went bowling. And so I'm just curious - is there any kind of a connection there? What did the authorities have to say about that?

GURMAN: So, we asked about that and it's unclear whether there's an actual connection between you know whether this gunman was motivated by Columbine or if this was just sort of him tipping his hat to the Columbine shooters. But nevertheless, I mean, you know, that was a detail that you know - it's been part of our cultural framework for some of these shootings that we've had out here. And like you said, Michael Moore spent a lot of time out here filming that movie "Bowling for Columbine." So, you know, the thought of bowling and school shootings and it sort of goes hand in hand out here a little bit. But, they're still looking to see whether there's an actual link between this and Columbine. They searched - they're searching his computer, his cell phone, you know, anything that would give sort of an indication of that.

ACOSTA: And, Sadie, one thing that we've noticed about the sheriff is that he does not use the shooter's name. What is - what's going on there with that? I mean, one that I've covered - I covered the Virginia Tech shooting and it came to a point where people wanted to stop talking about that shooter's name. Is perhaps - is the sheriff perhaps making a statement here by not using the shooter's name?

GURMAN: Yes, I think the day after the shooting he held a news conference and you know we were asking some questions about well you know the shooter's birthday, and he said, 'You know, I'm obligated to tell you certain things, but I'm never going to use the shooter's name in public again. I don't want to give him that notoriety, you know, I don't want to cause any more heartache to the family of the victim Claire Davis.' And so he took a stand right there that you know 'I'm not going to refer to him by name.' And then today, we heard that he just referred to him as the murderer repeatedly, not even a gunman, but the murderer because he said you know that the girl was murdered. So, I think that's sort of a statement by him and you know whether or not that's brought any comfort to the family, I don't know.

ACOSTA: All right, Sadie Gurman, it's hard to bring comfort to those families at this time, and it is sad that something like this keeps happening in Colorado, but we appreciate your reporting on this, Sadie Gurman in Denver. Thank you.

Just ahead, pot smokers finally have their day - recreational marijuana hits the shelves in two days, but will the sellers be ready and terrifying video as a man - a drunk man - plunges off a tall guardrail at a Washington train station. Look at that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: To Colorado now where anticipation is growing for a historic moment in our country's history. Colorado's about to become the first state to allow sales of marijuana for recreational use. CNN's Casey Wian is joining us now from Denver. (Casey), are pot retailers stoked out there?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're stoked and they're scrambling, Jim. Some of these retailers - 14 of them here in Denver - did not get their city licenses until Friday, some of them even today are still waiting for some of the tags that they need to identify the pot plants that are going to be used in this retail business. But they all say they're going to be ready for retail sales New Year's Day 8 o'clock in the morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

WIAN: Two days to go until Colorado becomes the country's first state to sell Marijuana for recreational use. At Evergreen Apothecary employees scrambled to get ready. Pot retailers must navigate so many regulations, only 14 of about 250 medical marijuana businesses in Denver have received one of these - a license to sell to anyone over 21. There are multiple inspections, packaging requirements and in some cases, new construction.

ANDY WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT, MEDICINE MAN: We're building an absolutely impressive showcase for the world to see that this is an industry, this is not an underground business.

WIAN: At Medicine Man all the pot sold is grown on site.

WILLIAMS: Customers don't want it really leafy. They like it nice, tight and dense.

WIAN: It's hiring 25 new employees and installing new equipment.

WILLIAMS: We have to tag all these plants with an FRID tag - a radio frequency identification, and so it's another inventory control that we have to implement here. This is a light tight airtight container, and -

WIAN: Wow.

WILLIAMS: -- this is our San Fernando Valley OG Kush, and the smell will hit you probably from there.

WIAN: Each of these containers holds about $7,500 worth of marijuana, so it's no wonder Medicine Man has an armed former army ranger guarding the front door. Lines are expected outside pot stores January 1st.

AARON HOUSTON, STRATEGIST, GHOST GROUP: The demand is going to be very high on day one. With a potential shortage of supply, prices will go up.

WIAN: No one's expecting a marijuana Mardi Gras.

MICHAEL ELLIOTT, MEDICAL MARIJUANA INDUSTRY GROUP: It's still illegal to drive impaired, to take the product out of state, to resell it to anybody, to give it to someone under 21 or to consume it publically.

WIAN: Statewide, about $300 million worth of medical marijuana was sold in 2013. The industry expects sales to more than double next year. The City of Denver says it's prepared.

ASHLEY KILROY, DENVER MARIJUANA POLICY DIRECTOR: We haven't seen a negative impact from ten years of medical marijuana, and we don't expect to see that with retail marijuana.

WIAN: Now, recreational marijuana retailers say they expect about 30 percent of that new business to come from out-of-state visitors. It's important to remember though that if you come to Colorado to partake, it's still illegal to take it home with you. Jim.

ACOSTA: An important reminder. Casey, Wian, thank you very much for that - we appreciate it. Al Jazeera says Egyptian security forces have arrested four of its journalists. According to Egypt's interior ministry, the arrests involved one journalist and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who says it met with journalists to spread damaging news about the government. Last week the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Federal workers are going to get their first pay hike in three years. President Obama ordered the raise last week, giving all federal workers a 1 percent cost of living (inaudible). The budget deal passed in October allowed for a modest raise after federal employees weathered 16 days of furloughs.

A new -- D.C. Metro has an important message for the city's residents. There is such a thing as being, yes, too drunk to ride.

Take a look at this video of multiple people falling at D.C. train stations, all of whom appear to be intoxicated. They're taking dangerous falls -- some of these are serious, guys, look at that video right there -- from escalators and guard rails. Metro says there have been a number of incidents recently and advisers taking a cab, you are too drunk to walk properly.

All right. Coming up, a young doctor goes missing and a YouTube video surfaces of her speaking directly to someone. Now police are scrambling to identify that person.

And it's judgment day in the NFL. Half a dozen coaches lose their jobs. We'll tell you who and why, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Every year the NFL regular season ends on a Sunday and every year NFL coaches await their fate on what's got to be the scariest day of the year for them. A day that's become known as Black Monday.

And joining me now is our Rachel Nichols.

Rachel, thanks for joining us. You know, they call it Black Monday for a reason. And this Monday is perhaps more black than others. Several head coaches have gotten the ax in recent weeks, including the Washington Redskins' head coach Mike Shanahan.

Who is on this list? Because it is a sight to behold -- Rachel.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, "UNGUARDED": Yes. We have it laid out before you. It's kind of like murderer's row. And not everybody you're seeing on this screen here was fired today. One was fired last night. They gave him a whole two hours after he walked off the first for his game. Gary Kubiak a few weeks ago. But it's still a pretty crazy group when you look at it.

Mike Shanahan, Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, who had some of his players crying in the locker room, he's so beloved there, but he just couldn't win. And you have situations where, like in Minnesota, they've got ownership trying to sell tickets for a new stadium.

So in each one of these cities, there's something a little bit different going on, but you've got 20 teams that woke up this morning that hadn't made the playoffs. And six of them now have head coaching vacancies.

And they're not done yet. We still don't know what's going on with Mike Munchak down in Tennessee. We don't know what's going on with Dennis Allen in Oakland.

I can tell you, Cowboys fans, Jason Garrett's job is safe, and Jerry Jones, the owner, has guaranteed that again, even though last night they had another heartbreaking loss that kept them out of the playoffs. I think there's Cowboys fans watching this show who might not be so happy to hear that, Jim.

ACOSTA: Right.

NICHOLS: But in fact his job is safe. And here in New York, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is also going to stick around. The owner, John Mara, said that he is welcome back next year. Somebody did ask John Mara, is everybody else in the organization safe, and John said, well, I don't know about me, he said, you've got to ask my mom because you know it is a family-owned team.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And -- but somebody who did not escape the ax, Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins. I have to tell you, as a lifelong Redskins fan, driving into work this morning listening to the sports radio, it sounded like group therapy instead of talk radio on sports.

What are you hearing about his dismissal, Rachel? Because it sounds like this was quite a story.

NICHOLS: Yes, it is amazing. People who don't live in D.C. or have never lived in D.C. might not realize the fervor of Redskins fans compared to some of the other cities around the country, but trust me, it is high. They're saying in Washington is that there's two important people in the city, the president of the United States and the quarterback of the Washington Redskins, and not necessarily in that order.

That's certain the feeling in D.C. and the frustration level. When you have last season, and this amazing wave of optimism, finally they've gotten things turned around, people thought. Finally we have a young bright quarterback in Robert Griffin III, finally we won the division and got into the playoffs again. Finally the drought is over.

Except this season, you had injuries, back biting, shifting allegiances, and then a terrible finish, eight straight loses. The worst finish in more than 50 years.

And to give you an idea of just how bad it was, Jim, you mentioned on talk radio this morning, everyone's talking about the Redskins. Well, at that time you were listening, the media is all gathered at the Redskins practice facility trying to get in to report on this story. The organization has some paranoia, it doesn't want to let them in. And Mike Shanahan gets stuck behind that mess of media. He can't get in, and so he's late for his own firing because of this dysfunctional situation.

ACOSTA: Right.

NICHOLS: Things are not good in Washington.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Daniel Snyder, who has sort of a tenure for good PR, I mean, locking people out of Redskins park, in the end created a bigger story and garnered more attention for this firing of Mike Shanahan.

Shifting away from pro football to the college ranks, I want to ask you about this BCS championship that's coming up between Auburn and Florida state. I mean, this is basically the last of the BCS championship games. College football switches to a playoff system.

Did the BCS work, do you think, Rachel? NICHOLS: Well, it worked this year because you are getting the teams that everyone think are the number one and number two teams in the country, but there have been so many times over the life of the system that it hasn't worked.

I think that all college football fans are pretty excited to see this go out the door. The question is, what happens next year when a committee is going to decide who the top four teams are? Put those teams in the playoffs. Are people going to complain about the difference between number four and then the fifth team that was left off?

ACOSTA: That's right.

NICHOLS: We know from the NCAA Basketball Tournament, there's always conversations about that bubble, right? And so you can expect a lot more dissension again next year, but at least it's going to be dissension over who the fourth or fifth best team is. You're going to have the top couple teams all getting that chance to compete. That's considered a more pure system. So enjoy this last time of the BCS coming up while you still have it. But we've got something different coming next year.

ACOSTA: What would college football be without controversy?

All right, Rachel Nichols, thanks so much for joining us and happy new year. We appreciate it.

NICHOLS: You too.

ACOSTA: And that's it for me. THE SITUATION ROOM now continues with Jake Tapper -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, spreading terror after a second deadly bombing. Can Russia handle security at the Winter Olympics? I'll ask the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee about the possible danger to athletes and fans.

Plus trapped at sea. A dramatic new mission is launched to rescue dozens of people on a stranded ship locked in ice on the other side of the world.

And missing doctor mystery. Candid videos of the woman surfaced. Who was she serenading? And did that person play a role in her disappearance?

Wolf Blitzer is off, I'm Jake Tapper, and you, my friend, are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin this hour with growing fears in Russia and around the world that terrorists will attempt to strike at the Winter Olympics. Another deadly bombing rocked Southern Russia today, the second attack there in two days.